Reflections on the American Megachurch and the Obligations of Leadership

Collected wisdom from Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel, Rick Warren, Miles McPherson and others

“There’s nothing like the local church when the local church is working right.”


If you tell people, “Let’s all fast and pray and volunteer and give of ourselves sacrificially so that things will remain the same,” no one will care. Where there is no vision, the people perish. You have to present the ideal. The overarching idea in the two kingdoms is the competing ideals—one of self-seeking, the other of self-giving. These, obviously, are very different directions, producing very different fruit.

To gain a sense of movement in the hearts and minds of people, you have to paint the lofty ideal of the kingdom value and impact of self-giving. At the same time, just giving people the lofty ideal is not enough. Leadership must gauge what aspirations and impact they hope will be operative in the community in 12 to 24 months through such a ministry.

The whole idea that God gives all the great ideas through the senior pastor is absurd to me. If you look at important initiatives that have happened at Willow, the vast majority bubbled up from the congregation, and they had to shake the senior leaders, myself included, sometimes the elders, to wake us up to what the Spirit was doing. Boy, we tell the people all the time, “Listen to promptings and pay attention to whispers because you might be the next person that one of our major initiatives is launched through.”

I have a little mantra: There’s nothing like the local church when the local church is working right. When the Holy Spirit is in charge, and when God’s anointing power is on a church, lost people are getting found, and found people are growing up, and lonely people are getting enfolded, and bored people are finding a purpose and a cause, and the poor are being cared for. To me, when that’s all happening, prompted and empowered by the Spirit as opposed to fueled by human power, that is the most beautiful activity I’ve ever witnessed.

“You can delegate a lot of things, but you can’t delegate prayer.”


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Prayer is the difference between the best you can do and the best God can do. Prayer is that thing that creates the culture and gives people a heart for evangelism because when you get into God’s presence, you start to get his heartbeat. That’s been the game-changer for us.

You can delegate a lot of things, but you can’t delegate prayer. The Lord convicted me out of Acts 6—when the church leaders were delegating stuff so they could be in the Word and in prayer. I love conferences. I’m a conference junkie, but I’d rather have one God idea than a thousand good ideas. You can go to conferences and get a good idea, but you’re not going to get a God idea there. You get that by being in the presence of God and getting into prayer.

When you stop praying, it takes the supernatural element out of what we’re doing, and the church becomes a club. There’s no conviction of the Holy Spirit, no miracles. Then the church stops being a movement and becomes a museum to what God has done in the past.

If you want God to do something new, you can’t keep doing the same old thing. You have to do something different, and I think prayer is the difference between you fighting for God and God fighting for you. So if we stop praying, we’re on our own, and I don’t think we’re going to get very far. When you start praying, it begins to create some of that momentum you can’t manufacture—it’s God beginning to move.

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The easiest way to stay relevant is to have relationships and friendships with people who are far from God—people who don’t attend the church. The problem for most pastors is their entire life becomes within the four walls of the church. My admonition is: Get a life.

The term “relevant” is often associated with watering down the gospel. “Incarnation” is a better word than “relevance.” Paul said, “I become all things to all people so that in all possible means I might reach them.” To interpret the gospel into the D.C. culture [where we serve], that’s hard work. But that’s incarnation, and anything less is dishonoring and doesn’t follow the example Jesus set.